Media trial during criminal investigation obstructs with Administration of justice and therefore amounts to ‘contempt of court’: Bombay HC
In a momentous verdict, the Bombay High Court, in the background of ‘media trial’ in the Sushant Singh Rajput Death case, had held that media trial during criminal investigation interferes with administration of justice and hence amounts to ‘contempt of court’ as defined under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.
It further added that media reports interfering with criminal investigation, before the initiation of trial, can amount to interference with administration of justice.
“…we hold that any act done or publication made which is presumed by the appropriate court (having power to punish for contempt) to cause prejudice to mankind and affect a fair investigation of crime as well as a fair trial of the accused, being essential steps for “administration of justice”, could attract sub-clause (iii) of section 2(c) of the CoC Act depending upon the circumstances and be dealt with in accordance with law”
“The expression “administration of justice” in section 2(c) (iii) of the Contempt of Courts Act is sufficiently broad to include civil as well as criminal justice. The stage from which “administration of justice” commences may be prior to institution/initiation of judicial proceedings. Such administration admits of infinite variety and can take myriad forms. Trial by media/pre-judgment while a police investigation is in progress could lead to interference with/obstruction to “administration of justice”, the Court said.
The Court furthermore rejected that argument that the defence of fair reporting under Section 3 should be available even for reports about investigation. This argument was made on the interpretation that ‘judicial proceeding’ as defined under Section 3 should cover proceedings from the stage of registration of FIR. The Court dismissed the argument holding that Section 3 evidently defines what ‘judicial proceedings’ mean.
The Court issued a slew of directions to regulate media reporting of an ongoing criminal investigation.
The Bench held that media trial not only runs counter to the Program Code framed under the Cable TV Act but also interferes with the criminal investigation by police.
“Press/ media ought to avoid discussions, debates relating to criminal investigation and should confine only to informative reports in such matters in public interest.
Media should observe restraint in discussions about ongoing investigation so as not to prejudice the rights of the accused and witness” the HC noted.
The Court also directed that the Press Council of India guidelines on reporting shall be applicable to the electronic media too.
“Think of a police officer. Can anyone be guaranteed that he will not be influenced? He may be following a particular track, which could be the right track. Media says no this must be the track. He loses track and rounds up innocent,” the Court had commented while emphasizing the malevolent of media trial of an ongoing criminal investigation.
“Criticism of city police by TV media was unfair, in view of the material placed on record. The city police was at the very basic stage of probe”, the High Court noted.
The Court also ruled that the media coverage done by the Republic TV and Times Now against Mumbai police in the case pertaining to death of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput is prima facie contemptuous.
Case Name: Nilesh Navalakha and others v Union of India and others and connected cases
Citation: PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION (ST) NO. 92252 OF 2020 WITH INTERIM APPLICATION NO. 95156 OF 2020
Coram: Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice GS Kulkarni
Media trial during criminal investigation obstructs with administration of justice and therefore amounts to ‘contempt of court’: Bombay HC